Media & Gaming

A bitter taste

Yoozoo poisoning casts shadow on Netflix show


Killed by a colleague: Lin Qi

Murder by poisoning dates back many centuries. Deemed an unchivalrous method of assassination, the same technique is still used today – the poisoning of Russian agent Sergei Skripal with Novichok in the UK caused a major diplomatic incident in 2018.

More recently still, poisoning is said to have been the cause of death of Lin Qi, a 39 year-old tycoon who founded the entertainment publisher Yoozoo, which owns (among other things) the rights to film the acclaimed Chinese sci-fi trilogy The Remembrance of Earth’s Past.

Better known as The Three-Body Problem ­– the title of the first novel in the series (see WiC262) ­­– the franchise was in the process of being adapted into an English-language series by streaming giant Netflix when Lin was admitted to a hospital in Shanghai on December 16, two days after the shooting of the local version of the series was completed.

He died on Christmas Day and it has been widely reported that the poison may have been administered in aged pu’er tea.

According to TMTPost, a Beijing-based news provider, a murder suspect was arrested soon after Lin became critically ill. Xu Yao, a colleague of Lin’s, was found to have ordered over 100 types of poison from overseas prior to the Yoozoo founder’s death. His motive was probably linked to retrenchment plans at the company that were announced last year, speculates China Economic Weekly.

Xu joined the Shanghai-based company in 2017 as a director. Aside from heading up Yoozoo’s movie production arm, Xu also set up a new unit focusing on monetising the intellectual property rights of the Three-Body franchise (see WiC280). Xu had previously worked as legal counsel for acquisitive conglomerate Fosun between 2010 and 2017, and graduated from the University of Michigan Law School.

But it was not until last June that the unit struck its first deal, selling 10-year game development rights for Rmb45 million ($6.95 million) to its parent company, reported Lieyunwang, a tech news source.

For people who knew both Lin and Xu the allegations were shocking, although insiders have acknowledged the clash of ambition between the two men. “Lin’s management style method was rather overbearing. He scolded anyone publicly, regardless of their rank. He even hurled things at people,” Wang Hai, a Yoozoo alumnus, also told 36Kr, an online news platform.

On the contrary, Wang described Xu as genteel and thin-skinned. “He belongs to the kind of group who wears suits and leather shoes to work every day,” he observed.

Tensions between the two had heightened early last year when Lin, unhappy with Xu’s performance, downsized his remuneration as part of a restructuring exercise, local media reports.

For the first nine months of 2020 Yoozoo booked a 21% year-on-year decline in net profit to Rmb560 million ($86.8 million), despite a 41% jump in revenues to Rmb3.7 billion. Founded in 2009, the Shenzhen-listed firm is best known outside China as the developer of Game of Thrones: Winter Is Coming, an online game. With over 50 titles, it was one of the top 10 Chinese mobile games publishers by sales (as of November), according to Sensor Tower, another research firm.

The company’s deteriorating fortunes coincided with Lin’s repeated attempts to reduce his holdings of Yoozoo stock, which accounted for about a quarter of the company’s shares. Reportedly, a large chunk of his remaining stake was pledged against his personal loans.

Lin had been hoping to create an IP franchise as lucrative as Star Wars. He hatched a plan to buy the rights to adapt The Three-Body Problem in 2014, a year before the text became a literary sensation, thanks to its winning of the prestigious literary award, the Hugo. Last September Netflix was granted the international rights to adapt the novel, which counts Barack Obama and Elon Musk among its readers.

Netflix, which does not operate in China, hasn’t commented on whether the killing of Lin, who was credited as an executive producer of the new series, would impact on its production and release plans.





Keeping track, Jan 29, 2021: Lin Qi, the tycoon who founded Shanghai-based entertainment and video games publisher Yoozoo, was poisoned to death before Christmas. The killing has opened up a Pandora’s box of uncertainties. In the latest development the question of who is going to inherit Lin’s mammoth wealth has sparked discussion online, thanks to a weibo post suggesting he has an illegitimate child. Written by a woman claiming to be the sister of Lin’s fiancée, the post asked why Lin’s body was cremated in haste, which would make a DNA paternity testing difficult. Without a will from Lin to follow, Yoozoo announced on January 11 that the 24% stake that Lin owned, worth around Rmb3 billion ($460 million), will be transferred to the three children he shared with his ex-wife Xu Fenfen. Before they turn 18, their interest will be under the custody of their mother, making Xu effectively the controller of the Shenzhen-listed company. The dispute will likely be messy given that Lin controlled as many as 154 companies and a luxury mansion worth Rmb180 million in Shanghai. A conservative guesstimate puts Lin’s wealth at Rmb7 billion, according to 21CN Business Herald.

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